A case involving Huntington Firefighter John Angle shows the difficulty of establishing a PTSD workers’ compensation claim in a state with a “physical injury” statute such as West Virginia.
Several states have workers’ compensation laws similar to Section 23-4 of the West Virginia Code, which provides that “no alleged injury or disease shall be recognized as a compensable injury or disease which was solely caused by nonphysical means and which did not result in any physical injury or disease to the person claiming benefits. It is the purpose of this section to clarify that so-called mental-mental claims are not compensable under this chapter.”
Angle filed a workers’ compensation claim for post-traumatic stress disorder and compassion exhaustion disorder caused by witnessing deaths and other disturbing incidents as a firefighter. Angle believed that the opioid epidemic multiplied the number of calls to which he responded. Angle estimated that he went on about 4,000 calls a year. He testified that he experienced difficulty sleeping, nightmares, irritability, mood swings, and a lack of compassion. The West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals rejected Angle’s workers’ compensation claim. The Court ruled that “Angle alleges that he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and compassion exhaustion disorder as a result of years of work as a firefighter. He testified that he developed difficulty sleeping, nightmares, irritability, mood swings, and a lack of compassion, in the course of and resulting from his employment, yet he also denied that any particular injury caused his post-traumatic stress disorder. All of Angle’s symptoms, and the requested diagnoses, were caused by nonphysical means and did not result in any physical injury or disease. Pursuant to West Virginia Code § 23-4, the claim was properly denied.”
Angle v. City of Huntington, 2020 WL 7315008 (W.V. 2020).